In a job interview you might stumble on the interview question: “How do you handle criticism?“, “Can you deal with criticism?” or “Tell me about a time when you received criticism.”
In this article, you’ll find a perfect example answer, interview tips, do’s and don’ts. Use the CARL framework for professional reflection and to structure your answer.
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Why do interviewers ask this interview question? The interviewer wants to know if you experienced conflict on the job and how you handled the situation. They seek candidates that accept and apply constructive criticism rather than those acting defensively with a fight-or-flight response.
For job seekers WITH EXPERIENCE
Context: “Actually, I think I can handle criticism quite well. A recent example of this was when my former manager at [Company XYZ] criticized one of my product designs. The pressure was high because the project was by order of a major client. He explained that my work did not match the client’s brand identity.
Action: I listened to his criticism, took note and examined the possibilities to improve my work. I went to several senior product designers within the department and requested for advice. I kept the dialogue open with all stakeholders involved and scheduled a meeting to present the final result.
Results: The presentation was well received and my manager complimented me for making the necessary adjustments within such a short notice. The project was approved by the client and is still implemented to this day.
Learning: What I’ve learned from this experience, is to not take criticism personally, even if it’s not offered in a friendly manner or supported by specific examples. It’s an opportunity to view things from a different perspective and improve performance.”
For job seekers WITH NO EXPERIENCE
“Well, I see criticism as one of the most valuable ways for personal and professional improvement. However, I do examine the source, the motivation and whether the criticism is helping me to become a better version of myself. So, I do consider the nature of the criticism.
When I receive criticism, I usually take a deep breath and carefully listen if the criticism aligns with my priorities. I show signs of being receptive rather than defensive. If the criticism resonates, I’ll proactively work on it. If not, I’ll ask peers, friends or family for a second opinion.”
√ Do provide an answer that is truthful and professional. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t experienced criticism on the job or acted poorly in the past (to a certain extent), as long as you describe what you’d do differently or how you will respond in the future.
√ Do pay attention to your tone of voice. It’s important to maintain a calm and peaceful tone. Give yourself enough time to breathe in and breathe out if you find that difficult.
√ Do make a distinction between criticism from a client, coworker or employer. Your approach depends on the source. In the case of a customer complaint you listen, empathize and satisfy the customer with the best possible solution. When your coworker is the critic, you paraphrase him/her and try to understand the criticism. If you don’t understand it, you can ask: “Can you give me an example?“. If the criticism is coming from your boss, you rationally assess the criticism, request time to follow up and see it as an opportunity to improve your performance.
X Don’t respond immediately. Say something along the lines of: “Let me think for a second..” or paraphrase the sentence before you answer the question.
X Don’t tell the interviewer about a situation where you fled, blamed or accused the critic. These fight-or-flight responses are bad for working relationships.
X Don’t let the emotional side get the better of you when answering this question. Don’t blame or talk negatively about your former employer or coworker, but stay rational and reasonable.